That students' social and economic characteristics shape their cognitive and behavioral outcomes is well established, yet policymakers typically resist accepting that non-school disadvantages necessarily depress outcomes. Rather, they look to better schools and teachers to close achievement gaps, and consistently come up short. This report describes how social class characteristics plausibly depress achievement and suggests policies to address them. It focuses on five characteristics for purposes of illustration: (1) parenting practices that impede children's intellectual and behavioral development; (2) single parenthood; (3) parents' irregular work schedules; (4) inadequate access to primary and preventive health care; and (5) exposure to and absorption of lead in the blood. Parental unemployment and low wages, housing instability, concentration of disadvantage in segregated neighborhoods, stress, malnutrition, and health problems like asthma are among other harmful characteristics. This analysis suggests that policies other than school improvement should be given strong consideration, as should the possibility that at least some of these policies may be more powerful levers for raising the achievement of disadvantaged children than the school improvement strategies that policymakers conventionally consider and advocate. A list of combined endnotes and references is provided.